25th Anniversary of the ADA Calls Attention to Gains Made and Goals Ahead

Marthalee Galeota has spent nearly 12 years at Starbucks focused on promoting a more accessible environment for people with disabilities.

“Coming to work for Starbucks was like a gift,” said Galeota, who is a manager for Starbucks Equal Opportunity Initiatives. “This is an environment that cares about people and one where I knew we had the ability to make a true impact with people with disabilities.”

This month Starbucks is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications. The act was signed into law in 1990, July 26.

Starbucks has been commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ADA this month with a series of educational events. One highlight was the Access Expo which featured representatives from the company – along with community and national organizations, including the Starbucks Access Alliance, Summit Assistance Dogs, and the National Alliance on Mental Health.

The events were coordinated by the Starbucks Access Alliance, a group of partners (employees) who promote disability inclusive environments and universal design. A longtime member, Galeota believes that “accessibility is not only a business imperative, it’s a global responsibility.”

A Personal Journey

Galeota has been passionate about helping people with disabilities since she was a child. Her best friend in school had a sister with Down syndrome who was a regular playmate. “Growing up, I witnessed how people with disabilities were treated. I saw the disparity and didn’t understand it,” Galeota said. “Everyone wants to be cared about. It’s pretty simple.”

She majored in psychology and sociology at Frostburg State University in Maryland and went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling. While teaching students with developmental disabilities as part of an internship, she drew upon her desire to make a deeper connection.

“Instead of teaching and calling it a day, I took the students out to dinner. We had conversations,” said Galeota. “It became my life, not my job.”

Galeota eventually wanted to do more than counseling. She moved to Seattle and expanded her range of experiences with people with disabilities.

”I worked with people using wheelchairs, kids with autism, adults with vision loss,” she recalled. She worked alongside people who are deaf-blind to lobby in Olympia, Washington to get an appropriation for setting up the country’s first Deaf-Blind Service Center – which has become a model across the nation

When Galeota joined Starbucks in 2004 as a diversity specialist, her first assignment was to create a more efficient sign language interpreting service for deaf partners. She’s since built relationships so there are “access ambassadors” across the company working to ensure Starbucks remains an inclusive place to work.

Just last month, for Galeota and scores of like-minded partners, recognition came from outside the company when Starbucks was named a top employer for disability hiring and inclusion. Starbucks scored 100 percent on a new Disability Equality Index survey, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network.

Galeota says she’s grateful for the recognition and added, "There's always more to do.”

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